Everything flows from the rights of the others and my never-ending duty to respect them.

Emmanuel Lévinas


We are all equal, but some are more equal than others. In this activity participants take on roles and move forward depending on their chances and opportunities in life.

Related rights

• The right to equality in dignity and rights
• The right to education
• The right to a standard of living adequate for good health and well-being


• To raise awareness about inequality of opportunity
• To develop imagination and critical thinking
• To foster empathy with others who are less fortunate


• Role cards
• An open space (a corridor, large room or outdoors)
• Tape or CD player and soft/relaxing music
• A hat


• Read the instructions carefully. Review the list of "situations and events" and adapt it to the group that you are working with.
• Make the role cards, one per participant. Copy the (adapted) sheet either by hand or on a photocopier; cut out the strips, fold them over and put them in a hat.

Key Date
  • 15 JuneWorld Food Day


1. Create a calm atmosphere with some soft background music. Alternatively, ask the participants for silence.
2. Ask participants to take a role card out of the hat. Tell them to keep it to themselves and not to show it to anyone else.
3. Invite them to sit down (preferably on the floor) and to read carefully what is on their role card.
4. Now ask them to begin to get into role. To help, read out some of the following questions, pausing after each one, to give people time to reflect and build up a picture of themselves and their lives:
• What was your childhood like? What sort of house did you live in? What kind of games did you play? What sort of work did your parents do?
• What is your everyday life like now? Where do you socialise? What do you do in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening?
• What sort of lifestyle do you have? Where do you live? How much money do you earn each month? What do you do in your leisure time? What you do in your holidays?
• What excites you and what are you afraid of?
5. Now ask people to remain absolutely silent as they line up beside each other (like on a starting line)
6. Tell the participants that you are going to read out a list of situations or events. Every time that they can answer "yes" to the statement, they should take a step forward. Otherwise, they should stay where they are and not move.
7. Read out the situations one at a time. Pause for a while between each statement to allow people time to step forward and to look around to take note of their positions relative to each other.
8. At the end invite everyone to take note of their final positions. Then give them a couple of minutes to come out of role before debriefing in plenary.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start by asking participants about what happened and how they feel about the activity and then go on to talk about the issues raised and what they learnt.
• How did people feel stepping forward - or not?
• For those who stepped forward often, at what point did they begin to notice that others were not moving as fast as they were?
• Did anyone feel that there were moments when their basic human rights were being ignored?
• Can people guess each other's roles? (Let people reveal their roles during this part of the discussion)
• How easy or difficult was it to play the different roles? How did they imagine what the person they were playing was like?
• Does the exercise mirror society in some way? How?
• Which human rights are at stake for each of the roles? Could anyone say that their human rights were not being respected or that they did not have access to them?
• What first steps could be taken to address the inequalities in society?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

If you do this activity outdoors, make sure that the participants can hear you, especially if you are doing it with a large group! You may need to use your co-facilitators to relay the statements.

In the imagining phase at the beginning, it is possible that some participants may say that they know little about the life of the person they have to role-play. Tell them, this does not matter especially, and that they should use their imagination and to do it as best they can.

The power of this activity lies in the impact of actually seeing the distance increasing between the participants, especially at the end when there should be a big distance between those that stepped forward often and those who did not. To enhance the impact, it is important that you adjust the roles to reflect the realities of the participants' own lives. As you do so, be sure you adapt the roles so that only a minimum of people can take steps forward (i.e. can answer "yes"). This also applies if you have a large group and have to devise more roles.

During the debriefing and evaluation it is important to explore how participants knew about the character whose role they had to play. Was it through personal experience or through other sources of information (news, books, and jokes?) Are they sure the information and the images they have of the characters are reliable? In this way you can introduce how stereotypes and prejudice work.


This activity was learned from Els van Mourik (Something Els) and others.

This activity is particularly relevant to making links between the different generations of rights (civil/political and social/economic/cultural rights) and the access to them. The problems of poverty and social exclusion are not only a problem of formal rights – although the latter also exists for refugees and asylum-seekers for example. The problem is very often a matter of effective access to those rights.

VariationsGoto top

This first variation adds a further dimension to the symbolism of inequality. You need a long length of very thin string or paper ribbon that will break easily. When the participants are lined up at the start, walk along the line unwinding the ribbon as you go. As you pass each person takes hold of the ribbon, so that everyone ends up "joined" together along the ribbon. When the moment comes to take a step forward, some participants will be faced with the dilemma of whether or not to move and break the string. It may also be the case that those left behind blame the others for breaking the ribbon. It may therefore be necessary to remind people of the rule that "every time they can answer ‘yes' to the statement, they should take a step forward. Otherwise, they should stay where they are and not move."

Second variation: Run the first round as described, and then play a second round that has the potential to reveal sometimes undervalued competencies. The participants keep the same roles. In the second round, read out statements that you have prepared beforehand that focus on strengths that disadvantaged people may have, precisely because of their situation. For example:
• You speak more than two languages and use them every day. 
• You have overcome personal physical or mental disability, which has given you the self-confidence and inner strength to cope with becoming unemployed.
• You suffer from a terminal illness and know better than the others the value of life.
• You were brought up in a remote village and have a deep understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world as a result of climate change.
• You know how to live on a small budget and where to find the best bargains.

You can adapt this method to highlight inequalities in many other areas of concern, for instance in access to water, participation in political or social life, or gender issues. If you focus on another issue, then you will have to develop different roles and statements. When doing so, be aware of potentially sensitive roles and statements.

One way to get more ideas on the table and to deepen participants' understanding is to work first in small groups and then to get them to share their ideas in plenary. Having co-facilitators is almost essential if you do this. Try this method by taking the second part of the debriefing - after each role has been revealed - in smaller groups. Ask people to explore who in their society has fewer, and who has more, chances or opportunities, and what first steps can and should be taken to address the inequalities. Alternatively, ask people to take one of the characters and ask what could be done, i.e. what duties and responsibilities they themselves, the community and the government have towards this person.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Depending on the social context where you work, you may want to invite representatives from advocacy groups for certain cultural or social minorities to talk to the group. Find out from them what issues they are currently fighting for and how you and young people can help. Such a face-to-face meeting would also be an opportunity to address or review some of the prejudices or stereotyping that came out during the discussion.

If the group would like to find out more about the issues relating to inequalities in education provision world-wide and the measures that are being taken to address the problems, you may wish to look at the activity, "Education for all".

The group may like to take more time to consider the stereotypical images they have of the people represented in "Take a step forward". You could use the activity "Euro-rail ‘a la carte'" in the All Different – All Equal Education Pack to ask which people they would most like to share a railway carriage with, and which people they would least like to share with.

Ideas for actionGoto top

Take up the ideas from the follow-up. Follow through how you and young people can help groups and organisations working with cultural or social minorities, and turn the ideas into practice.

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF

Role cards

You are an unemployed single mother. You are the president of a party-political youth organisation (whose “mother” party is now in power).
You are the daughter of the local bank manager. You
study economics at university.
You are the son of a Chinese immigrant who runs a successful fast food business.
You are an Arab Muslim girl living with your parents who are devoutly religious people. You are the daughter of the American ambassador to the country where you are now living.
You are a soldier in army, doing compulsory military
You are the owner of a successful import-export company.
You are a disabled young man who can only move in a wheelchair. You are a retired worker from a factory that makes
You are a 17-year-old Roma (Gypsy) girl who never finished primary school. You are the girlfriend of a young artist who is addicted to heroin.
You are an HIV positive, middle-aged prostitute. You are a 22-year-old lesbian.
You are an unemployed university graduate waiting for the first opportunity to work. You are a fashion model of African origin.
You are a 24-year-old refugee from Afghanistan. You are a homeless young man, 27 years old.
You are an illegal immigrant from Mali. You are the 19-year-old son of a farmer in a remote village in the mountains.

Situations and events
Read the following situations out aloud. Allow time after reading out each situation for participants to step forward and also to look to see how far they have moved relative to each other.

• You have never encountered any serious financial difficulty.
• You have decent housing with a telephone and television.
• You feel your language, religion and culture are respected in the society where you live.
• You feel that your opinion on social and political issues matters and your views are listened to.
• Other people consult you about different issues.
• You are not afraid of being stopped by the police.
• You know where to turn for advice and help if you need it.
• You have never felt discriminated against because of your origin.
• You have adequate social and medical protection for your needs.
• You can go away on holiday once a year.
• You can invite friends for dinner at home.
• You have an interesting life and you are positive about your future.
• You feel you can study and follow the profession of your choice.
• You are not afraid of being harassed or attacked in the streets, or in the media.
• You can vote in national and local elections.
• You can celebrate the most important religious festivals with your relatives and close friends.
• You can participate in an international seminar abroad.
• You can go to the cinema or the theatre at least once a week.
• You are not afraid for the future of your children.
• You can buy new clothes at least once every three months.
• You can fall in love with the person of your choice.
• You feel that your competence is appreciated and respected in the society where you live.
• You can use and benefit from the Internet.
• You are not afraid of the consequences of climate change.
• You are free to use any site on the Internet without fear of censorship.